Illinois is more than just the Land of Lincoln. In addition to Abe, four of the nation’s presidents including Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have all called Illinois home. Many of the places these presidents frequented have become historic sites; open for visitors to learn more about these important figures and their legacies. In celebration of this week’s Presidents’ Day, learn how you can explore the iconic places these former leaders spent time right here in Illinois.
You don’t have to look far back in time to experience Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood as President Obama knew it. Tour the beautiful campus of University of Chicago, where Obama taught as a law professor, or make a stop into Valois Restaurant, Obama’s favorite place to dine in the area. If you’re looking to learn more about Barack and Michelle’s love story, make a stop at 53rd and South Dorchester to see the “Obama Kissing Rock”, which sits on the site of the Obamas first date as a young couple. The former president isn’t the only reason to make a visit to Hyde Park. The neighborhood is full of historical and cultural treasures such as, the DuSable Museum of African American History and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. No visit to Hyde Park is complete without a stop into the Museum of Science and Industry, which houses over 800 unique exhibits ranging from World War II submarines to LEGO masterpieces. Next door to the museum, you can view the site where the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum will stand once constructed.
Make your way to Dixon to see the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, where the 40th president lived with his family in the early 1920s. This charming, four bedroom home is fully restored with furnishings from that time period, including an exact replica of Reagan’s father, Jack’s Model T car! House tours are closed for the season until April 1st, but you can still walk around Dixon’s charming Main Street and visit the local shops. Also in Dixon, make a stop into the Northwest Territory Museum to learn even more about Reagan’s childhood and legacy. Housed in Reagan’s boyhood school, the museum contains a number of special exhibits including Ronald Reagan’s Restored Classroom and history room as well as a portrait of the former president made out of his favorite treat – jelly beans!
To learn more about Ronald Reagan as a young man, head to Eureka where Ronald spent time as a student at Eureka College before heading west to make it as an actor. Today, the college is home to the Ronald Reagan Museum and Peace Garden. The museum holds a collection of over 10,000 items covering Reagan’s college days, acting career and tenure in American politics. The nearby peace garden features a bust of the 40th president and a portion of the Berlin Wall, complete with actual graffiti from the time period. This unique spot pays homage to the role that Reagan played in bringing the Cold War to an end, and pushing for peace throughout the world.
Moving further into the presidential past, a trip to Galena will give you the chance to explore the beautiful Ulysses S. Grant State Historic Site. Grant and his family lived in Galena before he joined the army and led Union forces in the Civil War. Upon his return from battle, the citizens of Galena gave him a hero’s homecoming and gifted him and his family a beautiful Italianate style home. Today, the house has been restored to its former glory, giving visitors the chance to see many of the actual furnishings used by the family in the late 1800s.
In addition to the Grant Home, this Galena historic site is home to two other important dwellings. The Old Market House State Historic Site, previously the gathering place for vendors and shoppers of the city, is a great way to get a feel for what it was like to be a part of the community in Grant’s time. Another can’t miss stop is the Elihu B. Washburne House State Historic Site the home of both Abe Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant’s political advisor. The Greek style pillars and temple-like front portico are truly breathtaking!
No tour of Illinois’ presidential sites is complete without a bit of Abraham Lincoln. Missed out on Abe Lincoln’s birthday festivities around Springfield last week? Not to worry, there are tons of Lincoln attractions to visit year round. Tour the Lincoln Home National Historic Site to view the only home that Lincoln owned and see exactly the way it looked when he was living there. You can also visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, one of the most visited presidential museums in the country, to view authentic artifacts and live action shows about Lincoln’s life and times. On your way out, make sure to stop by the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site to see the final resting place of the 16th president. Remember to rub the nose of Lincoln’s bust at the entrance of the tomb – it’s said to be good luck!
Springfield isn’t the only place to learn more about Lincoln. Check out the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area for tours and information on the over 200 Lincoln sites around 42 different counties across the state.
Illinois offers many landmarks and sites that are dedicated to the celebration of these presidents. If you’re not ready to end your Presidents’ Day celebration, visit EnjoyIllinois.com for even more places to go.
-Illinois Office of Tourism